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History of Japan

Prehistoric times of Japan

Originally, the Japanese Islands were the parts of the continent, and the Sea of Japan was a big lake.
About 12,000 yaers ago, erosion of the sea separated the Japanese Isalands from the continent.
From this era, ancestors of Japanese began to live in these islands.

Until the 3rd century B.C., people lived on hunting, fishing, and gathering of nuts and fruits.
And they made and used earthenware.
We call this period "Jomon period".

After that, until 3th century A.D., farming became the basis of the lives of people, and many primitive countries were formed.
We call this period "Yayoi period".

Chinese old history book says that a King of China presented a golden seal to the envoys from Japan in 57 A.D., and it was excavated from the field in Fukuoka city.
Also, it says "Queen Himiko" governed a country and she dispatched an envoy to Wei (a part of current China) in 239.
Her country was called "Yamataikoku", and it is thought that the country was the most powerful.
And many scholars today are studying and arguing over the years where the capital was.

Kofun Period

From the 3th to 7th centuries, some countries in west Japan formed a group. And some kings began to govern.
About Emperor in Japan ("Ten'nou") today, these kings seem to be an origin.
"Kofun" is burial mounds. Kings in this era built them as the symbol of power.
They remain around Nara, Osaka and so on.

Asuka Period

In the 6th century, Buddhism came from China through Korea.
In the early 7th century, Prince "Shotoku Taishi" pushed for the construction of a nation based on Buddhism.
He opened the capital at Asuka (south of Nara), and built the temple "Horyu-ji".
After that, west Japan was unified as a nation.

Nara Period (710-794)

In 710, the capital was moved to Nara, and the full-scale nation started.
The Emperor governed the nation, managed farm land, exacted taxes, and created the army.
For Bhddhism, the temple "Todaiji" was built.
The oldest history books "Kojiki", "Nihon-shoki", the anthology of poems "Man'yoshu" were published.

Heian Period (794-1192)

In 794, the capital was moved from Nara to Kyoto.
The city of Kyoto is modeled on the Xian city in China.
During this long period, the government shifted power from the center to the regions. But the governing area was until Kanto (Tokyo area today) to the east.
And the ministeries began to do the politics for the Emperor. The "Fujiwara" family is famous.

Toward the end of this period, "Bushi" (Samurai / the employed soldier) was getting powerful, and the "Taira" family assumed the reins of government.

In this period, Japanese characters "kana" made from Chinese characters "kanji", so "The Tale of Genji" and so on were written.

Kamakura Period (1192-1333)

At the end of Heian Period, the "Minamoto" family of Bushi destroyed the "Taira" family.
They opened the new government at Kamakura (south of Tokyo).
So, two governments existed.(Kamakura, and Emperor in Kyoto)

But they took the reins of government under Bushi's initiative, so the economy developed.

Muromachi Period (1336-1573)

At the end of 13th century, Emperor family was divided by Imperial succession.
All Bushis of the country were drawn into the fray, and the government of Kamakura was destroyed.
Bushi "Takauji Ashikaga" took side of Emperor family, and destroyed the other family. So, the Emperor assigned him to "Shogun" (means general).
He opened a new government at Muromachi town in Kyoto.

But after he died, impractical Shoguns continued, so the society was getting turbulent.

In this period, the golden temple "Kinkaku-ji" was built.

Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1600)

In this turbulent age, three outstanding regional leaders appeared.

First is "Nobunaga Oda". He lived in around Nagoya today.
He won all battles against his rivals with strong troops and effective tactics. Gradually, he expanded his territory.
He was recognized as a most strong leader in this time. His ambition was to unite the country.

But in 1582, he was killed by a rival.
After this, his top-class retainer "Hideyoshi Toyotomi" was distributed considerable part of territory of Oda.
He was full of wisdom. First he was a poor farmer, but became a sucess as well as Napoleon Bonaparte.
He gained over many friend, and won some battles against his rivals.
At last, he united all country in 1591.

However, in 1598 he died of disease.
To use this occasion, a brilliant tactician "Ieyasu Tokugawa" governed a country to the east of Nagoya challenged Toyotomi side to a battle.
He had been gained over as a result of losing battle against Toyotomi. By death of Toyotomi, he got a chance to become the leader.
He enlarged the number of friends.

In 1600, Tokugawa troops and former Toyotomi troops stood face to face in the middle of Japan.
And about 180 thousand soldiers fought the battle here, but Tokugawa won in a brief period of one day.
This battle is called "Battle of Sekigahara", and is well-known in Japanese people.
He was assigned to "Shogun", and he opened a new government at Edo (Tokyo today).

These three men are most famous historical figures in Japan.

Edo Period (1603-1867)

During this long period, the Tokugawa family governed Japan for 15 generations.

The government closed the country for national stability, except a few foreign countries.
Christian religion had come from Europe in 1549, but the government forbad the Christian faith.
The economy and culture developed though some economic standstills and some famines occured.

Especially, the citizens created the diverse culture: "Haiku"(Short poem of 17 sounds), "Kabuki"(Drama performed by male actors), "Ukiyoe"(Woodblock prints), and so on.

For about 250 years, Japan had kept stable society under national isolation policy by Edo government.

In 1853, the ships with a negotiation team suddenly came from the United States.
They called for opening of Japan to the world.
The government discussed both for and against, then Japan opened the country next year.

After this, the government fell into confusion by succession issue of Shogun and careless conclusion of an adverse treat with the United States.
Here and there in Japan, many Bushis rose up to overthrow the government. Some of them wanted to complete the modernizetion of Japan.
After some internal insurrections for several years, the Tokugawa government decleared the end of itself in 1867.

Japan marked the end of feudal period, and changed to the new modern country after advanced Western countries.

Meiji Period (1868-1912)

A new nation started.

They changed the name of the capital from "Edo" to "Tokyo".
They instated Emperor Meiji as head of state, constituted the parliament, and established the Meiji Constitution.
They learned new social system, science, technology, culture from Europe and the United States.
To strengthen up the national power, they promoted industry and created the national army.

Japan modernized rapidly on its own power.

Following that, they hoped to do business in Korea. But Korea was closing the country, and, in addition, disliked the westernized Japan.
Even so Japan forced Korea to open the country. But China was considering Korea as a tributary.
After some skirmishes with 3 countries in Korea, Japan made war against China in 1894.

In 1895 Japan won and got a part of China and Taiwan.
A short time later, in northeastern China, Japan had a conflict with Russia, and got into a war in 1904.
Japan won this war miraculously, and got many rights in Korea and northeastern China.
At last in 1910 Japan realized annexation of the Korean Peninsula.

In 1912 Emperor Meiji died, and his son became the next emperor.

Taisho Period (1912-1926)

In this period, two big incidents occured overseas.
They were World War I (1914) and Russian Revolution (1917).

The former lead Japan to booming economy.

But the latter drove the inflation and depressed economy.
The government sent troops to Siberia to overthrow the revolutionary regime. The nation made a heavy expense of war, but nothing gained.

Additionally in 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck and the capital suffered catastrophic damage.
Then, the state of the national economy got worse toward the Showa period.

During this period, the movement for democratization was active. This is the foundation of the liberal democracy in Japan today.
After the great earthquake, many modern buildings were built in Tokyo, so the city landscape changed new.

Emperor Taisho was sickly, so he died in 1926. And his son became next emperor.

Showa Period - Until the end of World War II - (1926-1945)

In 1929, the Great Depression occured. A lot of countries in the world damaged in economy.

In Japan, many companies went bankrupt and created large-scale unemployment.
Politics lost the people's trust. However, the military had a bigger voice in politics.
They said, "Manchuria (northeastern China) is the lifeline of Japan.".

Although the government had decleared not to begin wars, the military caused a bombing incident of railway in Manchuria on its own, in 1931.
The military claimed that China caused this, and made inroad into China.
Next year the military occupied Manchuria, and established a new state "Manchukuo" (puppet state of Japan).
The League of Nations recommended to pull out the troops from Manchuria, but Japan refused this. Then Japan walked out the League of Nations in 1933.

After this, the military assumed the reins of government.
In 1936, Japan provoked the War against China.
The United States took up a strong position against this action. Japan negotiated with the United State with patience, but did not win understanding.

Japan, at last, attacked at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941, and started the war between Japan and the United States.
At first Japan always won, but the rout of "Battle of Midway" in June 1942 was the turning point.
Japan had tough battles at all battlefronts. But the military reported to Japanese people that all battles won.

In 1944, the United States occupied the Saipan Island.
Then many bombers attacked the mainland of Japan. A lot of cities in Japan were destroyed in air raids.
Finally, the first A-bombing in human history executed in August 1945: at Hiroshima on 6th and at Nagasaki on 9th.

On 15th August, Japan made an unconditional surrender, and Emperor Showa told to all Japanese people by radio that Japan had lost.
Over 3 million Japanese people died in this war.

Showa Period - After World War II - (1945-1988)

Japan was occupied by Allies, but the government of Japan governed under control of Allies.
In 1946, the Constitution of Japan was established.
This constitution reads, "We renounce war forever". We Japanese today are proud of this.

And Emperor Showa decleared that he was a human being.
All Japanese people were surprised, because he was a "living god" before that.
But after this, all Japanese people felt familiar to emperor.

Although the country was destroyed, all Japanese began to work diligently again.

In 1950 the Korean War started. This lead to booming economy.
In 1952 Japan joined the United Nations again.
In the 1960s, Japan built a high-growth economy.
In 1964, the world's first high-speed railway "Shinkansen" opened, and Tokyo Olympic Games was held for the first time in Asia.
In 1970, the World Expositon was held in Osaka.

High-growth economy lead to environment pollution and destruction of nature.
In the 1970s, energy crisis lead to period of low growth.
But in the 1980s, the industrial structure in Japan changed from material industry to high-value added industry. On the one hand information technology developed, on the other bubble economy grew up.

In 1988, during the golden day of the bubble, Emperor Showa closed his eventful life.

Heisei Period (1988-today)

As soon as the period changed from Showa to Heisei, the bubble burst.
People began to review the real value. But the bubble had made vast debt.

In 1990s, the work of Japanese is like to clear the debt.
Meanwhile, Hanshin Great Earthquake occured around Kobe city in 1995.
Japanese people were faced with nature's force.
After that, diversification of individual values accelerated among Japanese people.

And we moved into the 21st century.
But in 2001, invisible terrorists attacked the western civilization.
After this, obviously there were a lot of changes in the world.

Weak Japanese economy increased cheap workers among young people.
In the result, Japan has faced declining birthrate and aging Population.
Various national policy wasn't so effective, and national debt has increased rapidly.

Then, Great East Japan Earthquake occured on 2011.
Huge tsumani destroyed people's livelihood unmercifully, and it destroyed even nuclear power plant.

We Japan people decided to question ourselves.
About energy, about family, and about to live...

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